Cannabis is not the only industry that can act as a microcosm of the world but it may be the most prominent. Cannabis is still federally illegal so there are many areas in which people can be turned away from participating due to previous arrests for cannabis.
During the Fall Emerge 2020 Virtual Cannabis Conference & Expo, Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) Founder and CEO Roz McCarthy led a panel discussion with industry-leading advocacy organizations. Together, they addressed the myriad concerns surrounding social equity within the cannabis industry.
Several organizations, including Women Grow and the Last Prisoner Project, were also present to add their insights to the equity-themed conference. Each has a primary directive to achieve social equity and dismantle systemic racism within the cannabis community.
Cannabis and Criminal Justice
The Cannabis and Criminal Justice panel covered many topics, one being what exactly is the issue with handling systemic racism within the cannabis industry.
Speaker Mickey Belaineh, director of criminal justice law and policy with the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), explained how during their years in law school, they began to see cannabis popping up more and more during their time in a traditional criminal justice sector. They decided to move their focus to the issues facing communities of color through LPP. “I found this to be odd,” they explained, “cannabis continues to be a tool that is used to perpetuate mass incarceration, and yet when we talk about solutions to mass incarceration cannabis reform is often an afterthought.”
Todd Huges, chair of the Minority Campus Business Association and CEO of EntreVation, LLC, explained his thought process, “I think we have too many allies and not enough co-conspirators. I was watching Black Panther, R.I.P Chadwick Boseman, and his sister said, ‘He’s a co-conspirator.’ I need somebody that’s willing to be right next to me fighting, and looking for opportunities to support us in the space — and not just saying they would do it.”
When trying to assist a disenfranchised community, well-intentioned people sometimes pay lip service to the issues without actually lending a hand to help in meaningful ways.
Cannabis Industry Equity Issues
Offering monetary donations to organizations fighting for justice is one way to help. Demanding legal reform is another powerful tool in the public arsenal against systemic racism.
Erik Range, who serves as a board chair of M4MM and CEO of Legacy Farms Group, LLC., said it best, “Cut the check.” One of the best ways to help communities of color reach social equity is to donate money to places that need it.
Of course, throwing money at an issue doesn’t solve it altogether. “Groups who were on the ground [during legislation] working in these communities were walking the halls to try to create the laws that allow for minorities to participate. Laws that allow for tax dollars and go back into rebuilding communities that were destroyed.”
Cannabis Reform: How to Help Each Other
Gia Moron, President of Women Grow, remarked people need to, “recognize there’s more than one organization in the cannabis industry to support and get behind. We all have our missions, but it doesn’t mean we’re only helping to get one group of people involved.”
She continued, “We are diverse, not just in culture, also in terms of experience in different entryways into this industry.” Moron added, “And for our co-conspirators it’s important for them to recognize that we are multidimensional because oftentimes I hear them present the term ‘social justice and social equity’ at Black and brown people in a very specific way, and that’s unfortunate.
“Because are you then saying you only see us as low level? Are you kidding me? We are highly degreed individuals who have much to offer to this industry that was built on our backs.”
The issue of systemic racism and a lack of social equity are delicate topics to approach and even more difficult to actually fix. Range explained that emotions surrounding the topic are often raw and can be difficult to hear. Conversations that need to occur are difficult, not just for those coming in but for those who are living it.
It is not uncommon for outsiders to come into the community and feel attacked. McCarthy remarked she has had people talk with her and explain they felt defensive during difficult conversations surrounding race or accessibility. But it is important to process those feelings without silencing people of color or asking them to make the conversation more comfortable for advantaged groups.
Together We Can Change the Cannabis Industry
Dismantling systemic racism is difficult for every party involved. Often, those punished for cannabis either endlessly cycle through the justice system or are simply barred from cannabis altogether.
Belaineh, being from the criminal law and criminal justice sector, explains that focusing on retroactive relief is the more proactive way to help the community. They remarked, “cannabis has led to generational trauma and is still continuing to leave the generational trauma for Black and brown communities. Meanwhile, it is creating generational wealth for white corporate America.”
McCarthy summed up their session by stating at the end of the day, simply knowing there is an issue that needs to be addressed without giving it any real structure to change is what the industry needs to confront. The organizations with which these individuals are working are dedicated to making these issues changeable. The stepping stones are being placed. The industry just needs to follow the path.